Posey's Tips & Tricks

The Future of Microsoft Surface

To find lasting success for Microsoft's tablet, the company needs to show how the device has lasting staying power compared to the competing iPad.

Over the weekend I had to travel to Pennsylvania. While I was there, someone casually asked me if I ended up having to travel with my laptop. I answered that I had left my laptop at home, but had brought along my Surface tablet just in case. They then proceeded to ask me why in the world I would use a Surface tablet when I could just buy an iPad instead.

I won't bore you with my answer because I don't want to turn this blog post into a head-to-head comparison. There are plenty of comparisons on the Internet. Besides, I have been writing about Microsoft products for almost 20 years, so even if my comparison was completely objective I think that bias would probably come into question. After all, I haven't exactly made a secret of the fact that I really like my Surface tablet.

The next day I was still thinking about the question that I had been asked and it made me start thinking of the future of the Surface tablet. I don't think that too many people would argue against the idea that the iPad is the trendy tablet of the moment.

As of right now I personally consider the iPad to be a fad. I think that if Microsoft wants to ensure long-term survival of the Surface tablet then it needs to work to prevent this fad from becoming a standard.

To show you what I mean, think about the state of IT 30 years ago (full disclosure: I was in elementary school 30 years ago). Roughly 30 years ago, IBM introduced the PC. The IBM PC wasn't the only computer that was available at the time, but businesses gravitated toward the PC because of the business applications that were available for it. The end result was that the PC became a standard, beating out competing computers from companies like Commodore, Tandy, and eventually even Apple (which found success primarily in selling to schools and graphic arts companies).

Right now Apple is on the verge of doing the same thing that IBM did so long ago. The iPad hasn't become a definitive standard yet, but it could very easily happen. If Microsoft wants to end Apple's dominance of the tablet market, it needs to take away the iPad's cool factor before the iPad becomes a standard. If Microsoft can put a stop to iPad envy then the Surface tablet might actually have a chance. One idea might be to start running a guerrilla ad campaign that portrays the iPad as a has been.

The good news for Microsoft is that Apple hasn't learned from history when it comes to the idea of the iPad becoming a standard for decades to come. The original IBM PC came with a very high price tag that put it out of reach of many home users. Eventually however, IBM allowed other manufactures to create PC clones. I'm honestly not sure how this arrangement was reached, but the point is that by allowing other manufacturers to create PC clones, IBM ensured that the PC would become a standard. Even today, numerous manufacturers build PCs and all of them still supports the original 8086 instruction set from the original IBM PC.

Apple hasn't allowed other manufacturers to start building iPad clones. In fact, Apple has received a lot of criticism for tightly controlling virtually every aspect of the iPad. That could ultimately help Microsoft.

Before I wrap up this blog post, I want to quickly revisit a topic that I discussed a few months ago in my first look of the Microsoft Surface tablet. In that review I mentioned that the keyboard cover worked, but that typing was awkward because the keys didn't really move when pressed. There was no tactical feel to let you know that a successful key press has occurred.

This morning I upgraded to Microsoft's new type cover. The type cover's keyboard is a huge improvement over the original keyboard cover. As a matter of fact, I am writing this blog post in the Miami airport on my Surface tablet. That is a feat that I cannot imagine attempting with the old keyboard.

The new keyboard isn't perfect. I can't type anywhere nearly as quickly on the type cover as I can on a regular PC keyboard. Even so, the type keyboard goes a very long way toward bridging the gap between tablet and laptop. For the first time I feel like I can use my Surface tablet to produce content, not just to run apps and browse the Internet.

I only have two issues with the type cover: The first issue is that you have to use it on a solid surface. When I first started writing this blog post, I had the tablet and the keyboard in my lap. Many of the key presses weren't registering because the keyboard would flex when I pressed on keys that were located near the center of the keyboard.

The other issue that I have with the type cover is the price. Maybe it's just me, but $139 just seems like a steep price for a keyboard. Even so, the fact that this keyboard has improved my productivity makes it worth the price.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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